Once or twice or maybe eight times during the off-season, I lamented the Cubs' decision to all but count on having Ryan Dempster in the starting rotation for 2008.

Turns out that Dempster has been the team's steadiest starter so far this season next to Carlos Zambrano. Through Monday's victory over the Dodgers, Dempster is 6-2, 2.56, his strikeout and groundball rates are up, and his walk and line drive rates are down.

Monday afternoon's win, in which Dempster allowed Los Angeles just one run over seven innings, was especially fortuitous, coming after the back-to-back, extra-inning, bullpen-sapping losses to the Pirates over the weekend.

Though the Cub offense was mostly quiet Monday, that hasn't generally been the case when Dempster has been on hill: through 11 starts, the Cubs are averaging 6.82 Runs/Game per Dempster start. That's slightly more offense than they're providing for Zambrano (6.45 R/G) and much more than they're delivering for Ted Lilly (5.0 R/G).

One other way to gauge the starters' contributions to the Cub cause is to look at the team's won-loss records in games pitched by the respective starters:

Dempster, 8-3
Zambrano, 7-4
Lilly, 6-5
Marquis, 4-5
Others, 5-4

There's no doubt that Dempster has benfitted thus far from an artificially low Batting Average Against on Balls In Play (.216) and the Cub defense has been sterling behind him (.785 DER before today's game), but even discounting Dempster's numbers based on those factors, the veteran has more than earned his keep as a starter, and the Cubs would definitely be in a much less advantageous position right now in the NL Central without him.


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